28 February 2014

South Africa: With an Election Looming, Home Affairs Plays the 'Blame the Foreigners' Game


Home affairs minister Naledi Pandor is talking tough on economic migrants, whom she claims are abusing South Africa's generous refugee laws. She wants to close the loopholes that let them stay. Does she have a point, or is this a standard dose of campaign trail xenophobia?

Either way, there's good news - there is a solution, as long as Home Affairs is prepared to take a good hard look at itself in the mirror.

At a media briefing at Parliament on Tuesday, home affairs minister Naledi Pandor made headlines for what she didn't say. The minister refused to comment on Uganda's new anti-gay laws, her silence construed as tacit acceptance of Uganda's stance. But what she did say was just as controversial, particularly on the subject of refugees and economic migrants.

One thing to understand first: legally, South Africa has one of the world's most progressive approaches to refugees. Anyone claiming asylum is entitled to temporary refugee status while their claim is assessed, giving them some legal status. Even more importantly, these temporary documents give asylum-seekers the right to work, meaning they can look after themselves during the assessment process, which can take years (terminology note: a...

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